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The ongoing saga of a woman in the process of reinvention.
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Sunday, August 15, 2004

With all my concern about Hurricane Charley and our family friend Tom I didn't comment on a development I wanted to talk about and would have sooner had circumstances been different.

Julia Child. Talk about someone who reinvented herself in midlife! At the age of 37, she went to France's Academie de Cordon-Bleu to study traditional French cookery. I'm sure that she was probably either the only woman in her class, or maybe one of only two or three. Haute Cuisine in France was a man's game, and remained so even when Ms. Child returned to America in 1961 with a massive manuscript, "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking," in her hands.

Two years later, she became a national icon and put Public Television on the map in one grand gesture when she began her "The French Chef" cooking show series. Until "The French Chef" Public Television was thought of as boring and pedantic. "The French Chef" actually gave people a reason to tweak their rabbit ears and strain to get their local N.E.T. (National Educational Television, which became PBS) affiliate tuned in.

For the rest of her second career (her first was in Espionage and diplomacy) she familiarized America with good food, prepared with panache. She helped Americans unlearn decades of bad practices in the kitchen...practices which had American cuisine lumped in with British cuisine for its blandness and questionable edibility.(To be fair, Britons are now learning how to cook with a lighter hand. When my husband went to Britain to play some gigs this year he noticed that food there had markedly improved over what he ate there during his last visit in 1965.)

A week from today Food Network will be saluting the doyenne of French Cuisine in America with some of her shows. It looks like there will be two blocs of in the morning, the other in prime time.

One cannot exaggerate the importance of what Ms. Child did for American cuisine. Ms. Child taught us the joys of fresh food, prepared with a light hand and conscientiousness. The fact that she allowed her audience to see her flubs in the kitchen as well as her triumphs was courageous in the extreme. By letting us in on the occasional missteps, she broke through the intimidation some felt when facing the kitchen. Hey, if Julia Child could mis-flip an omelet, sending pieces of it all over the stove, then somehow the mistakes and missteps one made in the kitchen didn't seem so bad.

It is worth repeating that Ms. Child was almost 92 years old when she died. She was not a believer in food fads, and insisted on using ingredients like butter and red meat and other no-nos in our health-obsessed age. She certainly believed in of her series that she won Emmy acclaim for was "Baking With Julia." She endorsed moderation in all things, and caring enough about yourself to feed yourself high-quality food. American diet doctors are still trying to figure out "The French Paradox." It was no paradox at all to Ms. Child.

Bon Voyage et Bon Appetit, mon ami...